Stories from the Great Depression in Johnson County, Part 2

Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry is a national traveling exhibition and program about the causes and aftermath of the Dust Bowl.  The exhibit and programs will be held at the Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th Street, Overland Park, Kansas, 66212 from July 2-August 16.

A New Deal agency left a lasting imprint on a number of young women who came to Johnson County from across the Midwest to attend a special camp during the Great Depression.  The National Youth Administration (NYA) formed in 1935 to provide work and training for young Americans.  An important part of the NYA was a series of nationwide camps, twenty-three in all, that provided education and work training for unemployed women between the ages of 18 and 25.

Women cooking at the NYA camp in Zarah.  Kansas City Star, April 18, 1937.

Women cooking at the NYA camp in Zarah. Kansas City Star, April 18, 1937.

One of the NYA camps for young women operated from 1935 until 1937 in Zarah, now part of western Shawnee.  While it was open, the camp in Zarah trained over 1,000 women in sewing, cooking, crafts, and home management.  The camps were of special interest to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.  Roosevelt said in 1934, “I live in real terror when I think we may be losing this generation.  We have got to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary.”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the NYA camp in Zarah in November 1936. Kansas City Star, April 18, 1937.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the NYA camp in Zarah in November 1936. Kansas City Star, April 18, 1937.

The camp in Zarah was forced to close in October 1937, but its impact was measurable.  A survey conducted in the fall of 1936  showed that 90% of the women who had attended the camp found employment after leaving the camp’s four-month sessions.

Women work in the garden at the NYA camp in Zarah.  Kansas City Star, April 18, 1937.

Women work in the garden at the NYA camp in Zarah. Kansas City Star, April 18, 1937.

The Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry exhibition was organized by the American Library Association Public Programs Office, the Oklahoma State University Library and the Mount Holyoke College Library.  It was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.

Cosponsored by the Johnson County Library and the Johnson County Museum.

– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum

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